The vote to oust former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has brought the lower chamber grinding to a halt, leaving lawmakers unable to conduct any legislative business while also shining a light on GOP infighting as they scramble to elect a new leader just 10 months into their newly secured majority.
McCarthy was removed from his leadership position in a 216-210 vote on a motion filed by a member of his own party and pushed over the finish line after eight Republicans joined all Democrats in ousting the former speaker. The unprecedented vote has left the House without a path forward and with sharp words being thrown from all corners of the GOP — raising the question of how the party can hold on to its already-slim majority when voters head to the polls next year.
“I think Matt Gaetz is a disgraceful human being,” Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY) said. “And I think he has certainly alienated lots of people left and right.”
Gaetz introduced the motion to vacate earlier this week over allegations McCarthy crafted a “secret deal” with Democrats to advance Ukraine funding in exchange for support on a continuing resolution passed over the weekend to avert a government shutdown. The passage of a clean CR angered several other House Republicans, who railed against the former speaker for working with Democrats to advance the spending legislation — something they say violated the speakership agreement they made in January.
McCarthy’s removal has left a rift in the House GOP, prompting concerns the divide could have an effect on the 2024 elections when Republicans seek to defend their five-seat majority.
“I think this is more of a harbinger of things to come as opposed to an event in and of itself that has a great impact on the elections because I think it’s a little early for that,” GOP strategist John Feehery told the Washington Examiner. “But if it shows … a more divided Republican conference, then it’s not good for Republicans keeping the House.”
If the division persists, it could have broader implications.
The vote to remove McCarthy came just days after Congress passed a stopgap measure to keep the government funded until Nov. 17, after which the government will shut down if a new budget is not approved for fiscal 2024. That leaves lawmakers with a tight deadline to advance their appropriations bills, which some Republicans are already predicting won’t be possible before the new deadline.
“If there is a shutdown in November, that is 100% attributable to Matt Gaetz and the other seven boneheads who forced this,” said Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA), one of McCarthy’s top allies in the House.
Getting those must-pass spending bills through Congress to avert a shutdown could be crucial to their chances of holding the House, according to some strategists.
“Republicans have to prove that they can govern, and they can only do that if in negotiations they can get a decent victory, or something good enough of a victory, that they can claim in the end game when it comes to all these spending bills,” Feehery said. “They have to define what that victory is.”
That could be easier said than done, especially as House Republicans also face an uphill battle in several competitive districts that could hand Democrats an advantage heading into the next cycle.
A federal court approved a new congressional district map for Alabama on Thursday, creating a second black-majority district in the state. The new map shifts Alabama’s 2nd District from Trump +29 to Biden +12, almost guaranteeing a Democratic pickup.
Meanwhile, Republicans must also defend New York’s 3rd Congressional District, held by Rep. George Santos (R-NY), which is expected to lean Democratic.
There are 18 Republicans seeking reelection in districts that voted for President Joe Biden in 2020 compared to just five Democrats who must defend their seats in districts carried by former President Donald Trump. That means there are just enough vulnerable GOP-held seats to keep things competitive heading into the next election cycle.
“The proceedings of the last few days have been a train wreck for the GOP. I mean, it makes it so easy for us as Democrats to say, ‘You want them to run the nation? They can’t even run themselves,’” Brad Bannon, a Democratic strategist, told the Washington Examiner. “So, you know, it’s a real problem.”
And Republican infighting in the House could extend to other races on the ballot, Bannon said, as it could be used as a weapon by Senate Democrats and Biden himself.
“I’m sure the Senate Democrats are going to make the argument: Don’t turn over control … to Republicans — they’ll do to the Senate what they did to the House,” he said. “And I’m sure Biden’s going to make the same argument: Don’t trust the Republican Party to clean up America when they can’t clean up their own mess.”
“I just think Americans are sick and tired of the dysfunction and the display the Republicans put on for the last week,” Bannon added. “[It] has been horrible for the party’s image.”